As an L&D practitioner, you have probably had several managers coming to you to request training to solve a problem they have. In some cases, managers may have even gone as far as providing input on how to design the training.
After some thought, you realise it’s not entirely clear to you how training would help. However, without evidence to validate your assumptions, you’re not sure how to argue against the manager’s proposal.
Why evaluate the need for training?
Lucky for us instructional designer Cathy Moore developed a systematic process for evaluating whether training is necessary. This process can be used to help trainers in two ways.
- To ensure trainers do not design training for a problem that cannot be solved by training.
- To identify better solutions that will work, which may be cheaper or faster to implement.
Aligning Learning with Business Outcomes
In an ideal organisation, managers would come to L&D with well-defined needs to their problems. However, this is often not the case in reality. As L&D, we have to occasionally put on our consultant hats to discover the core issues managers have. Moore suggests starting this discovery process by answering two fundamental questions.
- What is our goal?
You and the manager need to identify a measurable business goal. For example, this could be to increase the number of sales, reduce the number of errors in production, etc. It is essential this goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific).
- What do people need to do to reach the goal?
You and the manager need to identify the behaviours required to achieve the desired outcome. These behaviours can be determined by asking the manager a few questions, such as: What are some common mistakes employees make? What do you need employees to do?
So when is training really the answer to a problem?
Once you have determined the goal and what employees need to do to reach it, you need to focus on the high-priority tasks or behaviours. For each task or behaviour, you need to evaluate why people aren’t doing it?
In Moore’s framework, she identifies four categories to why people don’t adopt new behaviours.
The four categories are:
- Problems in the environment – Is it possible to do the new behaviour?
- Lack of skill – Can I do the new behaviour?
- Lack of knowledge – Do I know how to do the new behaviour?
- Lack of motivation – Do I want to do the new behaviour?
Unfortunately, even, the most capable L&D practitioners cannot remedy environmental problems using training. The same goes for issues arising from the lack of employee motivation.
In conclusion, Moore insists that training should only be used as a solution when there is a knowledge or skill gap. Therefore, when people lack the information or expertise to perform a particular task. However, for knowledge gap problems, Moore highlights you should first evaluate whether the problem can be solved using a job aid before deciding on a training.
Consequently, if the job aid requires some further explanation or is not applicable, this is when you should consider designing training.
So how can you perform a training needs analysis?
To avoid deviating from the aim of the post and acknowledge Moore’s work, we will leave this to her. Cathy Moore has a great website were she continuously shares her learnings and ideas. In her article “Is training really the answer? Ask the flowchart.”, she goes through a needs analysis using her flowchart and a fictitious case.
To reiterate, before deciding whether you should conduct training or not, you should answer the question: is it an environment, skill, knowledge or motivation problem? If it’s a skill or knowledge problem, then you can consider designing your training. Otherwise, it might be worthwhile identifying other, more appropriate solutions.